3 things we learned about Sixers lineups in 2019-20 season

Noah Levick
·5 min read

3 things we learned about Sixers lineups this past season originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers haven’t done anything groundbreaking, but they’ve made a couple of front office changes so far this offseason. 

They've hired Peter Dinwiddie as a No. 2 under Elton Brand and added Prosper Karangwa as vice president of player personnel, while director of scouting Phil Jabour and VP of strategy Sergi Oliva are among the recent departures

Oliva was influential in determining the Sixers’ rotations. So, outside of larger questions regarding the organization’s attitude toward analytics and the decision-making processes of this front office, Oliva’s exit in particular got us thinking: What did we learn about Sixers lineups in the 2019-20 season?

Here are three takeaways: 

1. The stars missed JJ Redick

In analyzing lineups, it’s often difficult to determine an individual player's impact. That said, it’s indisputable that the Sixers had starting lineups that performed very well in the 2017-18 and ’18-’19 seasons, and that Redick was part of both. 

Top starting lineup

  • 2017-18: Simmons-Redick-Covington-Saric-Embiid—Plus-20.5 net rating (601 minutes) 

  • 2018-19: Simmons-Redick-Butler-Harris-Embiid—Plus-19.4 net rating (161 minutes) 

Joel Embiid played his most minutes with Redick, and the duo thrived with its tricky, spontaneous two-man game. Brett Brown occasionally attempted to replicate that action at the elbow with Embiid and Furkan Korkmaz, but it wasn’t nearly as effective or unpredictable. 

Most minutes with Embiid 

  • 2017-18: Embiid-Redick—Plus-12.4 net rating (1,325 mins.) 

  • 2018-19: Embiid-Redick—Plus-11.4 net rating (1,613 mins.) 

  • 2019-20: Embiid-Harris—Plus-5.0 net rating (997 mins.) 

Losing shooters in Redick and Robert Covington hurt Simmons, too. Leading fast breaks and finding open men behind the arc has always been one of his best qualities. And again, an action with a Sixers star that had once been a Redick staple, "12," was not as fluid or challenging to guard with Korkmaz involved, even though there were encouraging moments. 

Redick was excellent at coming up from the baseline to either screen for Simmons, take a handoff or slide out behind the arc, and he was also good at then sometimes rifling the ball to Embiid on the strong-side wing and initiating a two-man game with him.

Most minutes with Simmons 

  • 2017-18: Simmons-Covington—Plus-10.1 net rating (2,014 mins.) 

  • 2018-19: Simmons-Redick—Plus-6.2 net rating (1,711 mins.) 

  • 2019-20: Simmons-Harris—Plus-2.5 net rating (1,650 mins.) 

2. A woeful offensive duo (and trio) 

We don’t need to spend too much time on this one, since it’s likely obvious to those who watched the Sixers last season that Al Horford did not fare well with the team's stars. We’ll just hit on a couple of points and move on. 

Horford-Embiid and Horford-Embiid-Simmons lineups were very strong defensively; the problem was on the other side of the ball. As context for the statistics below, the Warriors, who were the worst-rated offensive team in the NBA, had a 104.4 offensive rating and a 54.0 true shooting percentage.

Sixers with Simmons-Embiid-Horford on floor (432 minutes) 

  • Offensive rating: 98.7 

  • Defensive rating: 99.5 

  • Net rating: Minus-0.8 

  • True shooting percentage: 53.3%

In the playoffs, with Simmons sidelined by a left knee injury and Brown explaining his decision to turn back to Horford as a starter in Game 3 in part by saying, “If we’re going down, I’m going down with him,” the Horford-Embiid numbers were grotesque all around in a small sample size. 

Sixers with Embiid-Horford on floor in playoffs (88 minutes) 

  • Offensive rating: 96.7

  • Defensive rating: 131.0

  • Net rating: Minus-34.3 

  • True shooting percentage: 50.6%

3. How to surround Simmons 

The Sixers’ most-used non-Embiid group of five had a negative net rating, but we’ll posit here that it’s not a hopeless lineup. 

Brown employed the combination of Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Tobias Harris and Horford because he thought it possessed defensive versatility and could play with pace around Simmons. 

Simmons-Thybulle-Korkmaz-Harris-Horford (156 minutes) 

  • Offensive rating: 101.8

  • Defensive rating: 102.7 

  • Net rating: Minus-0.9 

  • Rebounding percentage: 44.0%

The final statistic sticks out because it’s 3.8 percentage points worst than the Wizards’ league-worst 47.8 percent rebounding percentage. It’s not as if all five players in the above lineup are abysmal rebounders; one figures this unit’s rebounding percentage and overall effectiveness would increase in more time together.

Another reason for optimism on that front is how similar units performed. A lineup with James Ennis in place of Thybulle and all other players the same had a plus-19.6 net rating and 52.9 rebounding percentage in 108 minutes. A unit with Ennis and Thybulle on the wings surrounded by Simmons, Harris and Horford had a plus-14.8 net rating and 54.4 rebounding percentage in 99 minutes.

Because of injuries and tinkering in futile attempts to make all the pieces fit, there weren’t many Sixers lineups that played a robust volume of minutes last season. Fluky numbers like that ultra-low rebounding percentage are more prone to pop up when that’s the case.

However, the qualities the Sixers wanted in non-Embiid lineups with Simmons were sensible, and the data from last season shouldn’t discourage the broad approach.